Zanj Radio | Sunday, April 27, 2014
Cape Verdean singer, multi-instrumentalist and composer Carmen Souza stops strumming her guitar and invites the audience to sing with her: “Afrika, Parais, Cor vermej, Sabor sabi.” They join in her melodious combination of traditional Cape Verdean and jazz sounds, and she listens and claps along, praising their participation with “thank you very much!”
As a part of Women in Sound Art, a Zanj Radio feature of female artists with distinctive and exceptional sound, we ask the Portugal-born Carmen to categorize her sound. “It’s the mixture of Cape Verdean music with jazz,” she says.
She explains that she began studying music at age 17 although she had loved the art form for a long time before, because she grew up in a conservative family. Since then, she has released four full-length studio albums, all to critical acclaim. Her third album Protegid (2010) was nominated for a German Record Critics Award and pre-nominated for the 2011 Grammy for Best Contemporary World Music Album. Kachupada, her fourth album, earned her Best Female Singer and Best Morna (a traditional Cape Verdean rhythm) designations at the 2013 Cape Verde Music Awards. She has become a standout in the Cape Verdean music, as well as on the international jazz and world music scenes.
Carmen talks with Shawna-Kaye Lester about, among other topics, the various instruments she plays, how she combines rhythms, her favorite place to perform and her experiences as a woman in the music industry. She also speaks to her relationship with Theo Pas’cal, ace Portuguese bassist and her mentor and producer. They are currently working on a new project she projects will be heavily instrumental and named Pas’cal Souza.
Check out Carmen’s interview. Indulge in her unusual and calming sound.
Shawna-Kaye: How did you meet Theo?
Carmen: He was already an established musician in Portugal and he already had his solo albums, so he’s already (a) very experienced musician with almost 20 years of experience. And he was doing musical direction for several bands and they were in need of a singer at the time and I auditioned and I stayed. And from then on—this is in 2001—that’s when we started to work together and compose and develop sound.
Shawna-Kaye: I was reading about you sort of mixing the Cape Verdean rhythms with African rhythms to make new rhythms, like a new sound that’s exclusively Carmen’s sound. So could you tell us about that process—mixing rhythms?
Carmen: Yes, because mainly we mix rhythms from the Cape Verdean with, for example, jazz and you know it so easy to go from bebop to a funana, which is what I do, for example, with Donna Lee. The original rhythm is a bebop, but easily you can put a funana, which is a traditional rhythm from Cape Verde, and it fits perfectly.
Shawna-Kaye: Could you hum the funana for us?
Carmen: The funana goes chuh-kuh-ti chuh-kuh-ti chuh-kuh-ti chuh-kuh-ti chuh-kuh-ti chuh-kuh-ti and it has kind of that swing from the bebop as well. And it can go faster than that. Then you have also the morna, which can sound completely, can swing completely like a jazz ballad.
Shawna-Kaye: How do you decide which language you are going to sing a particular song in? Because you speak, well I know you speak Portuguese, you speak English. Do you speak…is there a Cape Verdean language?
Carmen: Mainly all the songs are in Creole. But you know it depends on what the melody is telling me at the moment when we are composing, because the melody for me brings me the sound of vowels and everything. So it may come in English, it may come in Creole. I mainly use a lot of the Creole because it has different accents and I can use them in different ways.
Shawna-Kaye: I wanted to ask if you think you have any unique experiences as a musician by virtue of being a woman?
Carmen: Well I guess being a woman is a lot different in this industry, in this market, than being a man, you know? But I guess that mainly people sometimes, from what I experience, people sometimes look more at the picture rather than listening to what you have to say. And that is something sometimes very difficult and very annoying, too because you want to express a message and you want to talk about very serious things that you want to tell people. You want to make them happy or make them think about things and mainly people are looking at an image first and then, maybe, the music and the message after. And you know music nowadays is connected with so many other things that don’t have anything to do with music. … But you know I feel great, most of all I feel blessed to do what I do.
Shawna-Kaye: Where are your favorite places to perform?
Carmen: All the stages, for me, are like home.